School and teacher quality and accountability can be ensured through effective external review systems.
All around the world schools are inspected with the rationale that inspection contributes to the quality of schools and education systems. Although different traditions use different terms—such as school accreditation, inspection, or supervision—these processes generally have two interwoven objectives: public accountability and school development.(2)(3) The particular balance of these objectives and their impact on learning and teaching in schools are dependent on the political context and education system of individual countries.(9)
Issues and Discussion
Different Traditions and Terminologies
School inspections are institutionalised and practised in various ways around the world, resulting in a range of different terminologies.
In most of Europe and in many developing countries, the term ‘School Inspection’ is defined as the process of periodic, targeted scrutiny carried out to provide independent verification and report on whether the quality of schools is meeting national and local performance standards.(15)(24)
‘Accreditation’ is the term used widely in the United States and Canada to denote a specific quality control process that gives a ‘stamp of approval’ indicating that a school has met certain minimum standards and ensuring that it is committed to continuous improvement.(4)(21)(33)
Recently, the term ‘School Supervision’ has been used in an increasing number of developing countries to realise the goal of improving schools through ongoing support and guidance. (8)(16)
Other terms used include school evaluations and school or pedagogical advisors. Despite these different designations, collecting data and giving feedback for institutional, professional, and system improvement remain fundamental to the undertaking.
Basics of a well-functioning inspection and accreditation system
Organisational Structure: The organisational structure varies across education systems, but it generally consists of a national and/or regional School Inspectorate or an Accreditation Agency.
This agency governs inspection/accreditation systems through three main groups of functions; a) giving a public account concerning the quality of education; b) providing a guarantee of compliance with standards and regulations, and c) providing a service for quality management and improvement.(15)
A ‘hard’ governance approach includes target-setting, performance management, benchmarks and indicators, and data use to foster competition and improvement. A ‘soft’ governance approach refers to processes of mediation, creating networks and partnerships of actors that rely on self-evaluations, giving good examples and learning from best practices. Most inspection/accreditation processes move within the continuum of ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ governance.(9)
Setting Standards and Criteria within a Framework for Inspection: The school inspectorate or accreditation agency sets up a framework outlining the purpose of inspection, what aspects of quality should be inspected, what standards/indicators should be used, and how the inspection will be followed with further steps for quality improvement.
The key aspects addressed in an inspection may include:
- Overall effectiveness: the purpose, direction, quality and standards of education;
- Effectiveness of leadership and management;
- Quality of teaching, learning and assessment;
- Personal development, behaviour (attendance, punctuality) and welfare of pupils;
- Learning outcomes of pupils (different abilities, backgrounds, etc.);
- Resources and support systems.
Many inspectorates produce handbooks or guidelines for both inspectors and schools to explain these standards and criteria, and the processes of inspection.(1)(23)
Inspection Methodologies: Both internal and external evaluation approaches typically employ four stages:
- The gathering of quantitative and qualitative data against the set standards and criteria;
- Assessment and analysis;
- The drafting of the evaluation report;
- The implementation of changes.
Internal evaluation, also known as school self-evaluation, allows the school to identify its own weaknesses and develop plans for quality improvement.(29) Such self-evaluation is, in most countries, regarded as a source of information for the inspector; this information plays a role in setting the agenda for the inspection visit and can make inspection more relevant and useful.(9)
External evaluation is conducted by inspectors not affiliated with the school, who provides feedback to schools about strengths and weaknesses and indicates ways to develop. In both internal and external evaluation systems, realistic and transparent criteria help to make a more useful inspection report.(10)(13)
Inspection reports are also used to monitor schools and ensure that improvements are introduced in practice.(15)(34)
Inspectors’ Competences: The quality of school inspections, to a certain extent, depends on the competences of the inspectors involved. Inspectors must see their work as neutral and objective, should avoid conflicts of interest, and should act as ‘critical friends’. The inspectors’ relationship with schools, their communication styles and the feedback and advice they offer schools are important in making the school willing (or not) to act on the issues raised by the inspection.(20)(11)(17)
Inspectors should be able to identify and distinguish between genuine achievements of schools and a fabricated performance in order to meet inspection requirements. They are required to have specialist knowledge and managerial experience to make judgements on the teacher’s and school’s quality, and support self-evaluation culture in schools.(18)(26)
Criticism of inspectors is not uncommon. Therefore, inspectors are expected to be committed to basing judgements on first-hand evidence and to applying inspection criteria objectively and reliably.(18)(26)
Effective Practices for Feedback and Improvement
Clear and explicit feedback that is given by credible inspectors and reflects an accurate picture of the schools’ performance, their strengths and weaknesses against the standards, will inspire schools. Schools in difficult and challenging circumstances need different types of feedback from schools with high socio-economic status pupils.(10)(30)
Regardless of the type of school, if actual improvements are to come about, plans for follow-up must be embedded in the inspection system. In addition to providing feedback directly to schools, other follow-up mechanisms include the publication of results, development of improvement plans, rewards, and sanctions.(35)
In some cases, the follow-up may need to occur outside the school itself, such as through systemic improvements in teacher training, especially for issues that appear to affect many schools or the entire sector.
Cautions about the use of Inspection Results in School League Tables and Public Media
Teachers and principals in many countries find that performance league tables have negative effects on their well-being, causing loss of control, a sense of constraint without creativity, and frustration at having to work to a political (and sometimes commercial) agenda.(5)(19)(22)(25)(27)(28)(31)
Mass media have considerable power in representing, naming, and constructing meanings of school inspections—sometimes with adverse effects.(5)(6)(7)(22)(28)
Schools outside the mainstream system
Inspections with appropriate criteria should also be carried out at schools that are outside the mainstream public system—such as low-fee private schools, international schools, and schools serving minorities or specific ethnic communities. This practice helps to ensure that all students are attending schools of an adequate quality.(12)(32)
Plans and policies
- The Netherlands [Website]
- Jamaica [Website]
- New Zealand [Framework for School Reviews and Review Process]
- The United States [AdvancED Website]
- AdvancED. 2011. Standards for Quality Schools.
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- Bernasconi, A. 2004. Current Trends in the Accreditation of K-12 Schools: Cases in the United States, Australia, and Canada, Journal of Education, 185(3):73-82
- Bruner, D. Y. and Brantley, L. L. 2004. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation: Impact on Elementary Student Performance, Education Policy Analysis Archives:12(34)
- Clarke, J. and Ozga, J. 2011. Governing by Inspection? Comparing school inspection in Scotland and England. Paper presented at the Social Policy Association conference, July 2011, at the University of Lincoln, England.
- Dedering, K. 2015. The same procedure as every time? School inspections and school development in Germany, Improving Schools, 18(2):171-184
- Dedering, K. and Muller, S. 2011. School Improvement through Inspections? First Empirical Insights from Germany, Journal of Educational Change, 12(3):301-322
- De Grauwe, A. 2001. School Supervision in Four African Countries, Volume 1: Challenges and Reforms. Paris: UNESCO IIEP
- Ehren, M., Gustafsson, J., Altrichter, H., Skedsmo, G., Kemethofer, D. and Huber, S. 2015. Comparing Effects and Side Effects of Different School Inspection Systems Across Europe, Comparative Education, 51:3, 375-400
- Ehren, M. and Visscher, A.J. 2006. Towards a Theory on the Impact of School Inspections, British Journal of Educational Studies, 54(1):51-72
- Ehren, M. and Visscher, A. 2008. The Relationships between School Inspections, School Characteristics and School Improvement, British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(2):205-227
- Fertig, M. 2007. International School Accreditation: Between a Rock and a Hard Place?, Journal of Research in International Education, 6(3): 333-348
- Gaertner, H. and Pant, H. A. 2011. How Valid Are School Inspections? Problems and Strategies for Validating Processes and Results, Studies in Educational Evaluation, 37(2-3):85-93
- Jaffer, K. 2010. School Inspection and Supervision in Pakistan: Approaches and Issues, Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 40(3):375-392
- Janssens, F. and van Amelsvoort, G. 2008. School Self-evaluations and School Inspections in Europe: An Exploratory Study, Studies in Educational Evaluation 34:15–23
- London, N. A. 2004. School Inspection, the Inspectorate and Educational Practice in Trinidad and Tobago, Journal of Educational Administration, 42(4):479 - 502
- Mclaughlin, T.H. 2001. Four Philosophical Perspectives on School Inspection: An Introduction, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 35(4):647-654
- Mcnamara, G. and O'Hara, J. 2012. From Looking at Our Schools (LAOS) to Whole School Evaluation--Management, Leadership and Learning (WSE-MLL): The Evolution of Inspection in Irish Schools over the Past Decade, Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 24(2):79-97
- Maguire, M. ; Perryman, J. ; Ball, S. and Braun, A. 2011. The Ordinary School – What is it?, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(1):1-16
- Morrison K. 2009. School Inspection in Small States and Territories: an Overview and Case Study of Macau, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 39(6):751-767
- Mullen, C., Stover, L. and Corley, B. 2001. School Accreditation and Teacher Empowerment: an Alabama Case, Teacher Development: An international journal of teachers' professional development, 5(1):101-118
- Neves T. ; Pereira M. J. and Nata G. 2014. Head Teachers' Perceptions of Secondary School Rankings: Their Nature, Media Coverage and Impact on Schools and the Educational Arena, Education as Change, 18(2):211-225
- OFSTED.2015. School Inspection Handbook.
- Penninckx, M. ; Vanhoof, J. ; De Maeyer, S. and Van Petegem, P. 2014. Exploring and Explaining the Effects of Being Inspected, Educational Studies, 40(4):456-472
- Perryman J. 2007. Inspection and Emotion, Cambridge Journal of Education, 37(2):173-190
- Perryman J. 2009. Inspection and the Fabrication of Professional and Performative Processes, Journal of Education Policy, 24(5):611-631
- Perryman, J., Ball, S., Maguire, M. and Braun, A. 2011. Life in the Pressure Cooker -School League Tables and English and Mathematics Teachers’ Responses to Accountability in a Results-Driven Era, British Journal of Educational Studies, 59(2): 179-195
- Rönnberg L. and Segerholm C. 2013. In the Public Eye: Swedish School Inspection and Local Newspapers: Exploring the Audit–Media Relationship, Journal of Education Policy, 28(2):178-197
- Schildkamp, K. ; Visscher A. 2009. Factors Influencing the Utilisation of a School Self-Evaluation Instrument, Studies in Educational Evaluation, 35(4):150 -159
- Schildkamp, K. ; Visscher A. 2010. The Use of Performance Feedback in School Improvement in Louisiana, Teaching and Teacher Education, 26:1389-1403
- Thomas, G.1998. A Brief History of the Genesis of the New Schools’ Inspection System, British Journal of Educational Studies, 46(4):415-427
- Tokunaga, T. and Douthirt-Cohen, B. 2012. The Ongoing Pursuit of Educational Equity in Japan: The Accreditation of Ethnic High Schools, Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(2):320-333
- Wood, C. and Meyer, M. J. 2011. Impact of the Nova Scotia School Accreditation Program on Teaching and Student Learning: An Initial Study, Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issues 124
- Yeung, S. 2012. A School Evaluation Policy with a Dual Character, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 40(1):37-68
- OECD. 2013. Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment. OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education.